When women succeed in male-dominated fields, much of the attention they receive tends to revolve around the fact of their gender. Media profiles emphasize the glass-ceiling-shattering statistics of their subjects, whether they’re the first female billionaire to pledge to donate half of her fortune or the first female founder of the cereal or denim industries. Interviewers focused on questions about how female founders and executives achieved professional success while raising families or dealing with issues such as infertility and sexism.
On the one hand, given the lack of female CEOs worldwide and women-founded startups in the US receiving just 2% of venture capital funding in 2021, it makes sense that much of the public conversation about women leaders is gendered. A new report (pdf) from public relations firm Finsbury Glover Hering (FGH) highlights ways women can be praised for succeeding against the odds that can perpetuate the sexist status quo.
Although the report focuses on German business leaders, its findings are relevant to all countries where gender inequality is a reality.
Why Focusing on Gender Can Disempower Women
The Finsbury Report recently examined 600 interviews with German publications to analyze gender patterns in how the media treats male and female executives, a term that covers founders, entrepreneurs and board members.
Even a seemingly congratulatory observation about how women are unique in their field, among the report’s most important points, can have a negative effect. It calls attention to profiles that call women “foreigners” in manufacturing, refer to former Siemens chief human resources officer Janina Kugel as a “pop star” and Crown Merck CEO Belen Garrijo as “the first queen of the DAX,” Germany’s stock market. index. “Such a title implies that they are and will remain the exception,” the report states. “After all, how many pop stars or queens are there in the world?”
Similarly, the report asserts that the media’s obsession with highlighting first women who claim a particular achievement inadvertently suggests that their gender merits attention rather than their accomplishments and vocations.
How the media covers women executives
The report’s findings underscore the lopsided coverage of male and female executives in the media:
- Of the 600 print-media interviews in the last 30 months, only 13% were with female executives
- Almost a quarter of the interviews with female managers discussed their gender
- Stories are twice as likely to discuss women’s physical appearance than men’s
- Female managers are six times more likely than men to be asked about their private lives, such as their childhood and family.
All this is in keeping with the well-known phenomenon in which high-achieving women must navigate interviews that unexpectedly receive prompts to discuss their looks or relationship status, and to discuss work-life balance.
One in a million
Some women may choose to push back when entering such sexist territory when interviewing. However, there are potential commercial upsides to the media’s focus on sex. The report notes that “female founders receive greater attention due to their special position, and this also opens up opportunities for publicity”. It is also true that few women can be active in business wants to discuss the impact of gender on their lives and career paths.
The problem is how public discourse can often inadvertently imply that gender is the most important or interesting factor in women’s achievements. An overemphasis on gender not only minimizes individual women’s achievements; It may also increase the likelihood that women may remain rare in sectors or companies that congratulate themselves on having a few high-powered women and thus make no further efforts to include them.